Letting the Text Speak (Romans 16)
This morning I want to talk to you candidly about a few things: unity and division, orthodoxy, as well as allowing the text of scripture to speak for itself.
Last week, I stressed God's desire for unity and His disdain for division; in particular, those who cause division. The book of Proverbs tells us that those who sow discord are an abomination to God and the objects of His hatred; which is strong rhetoric! But as we learned, the reason for this bold language is that divisive people are not of God (Romans 16:18). They are the true definition of what we call a heretic.
But as I've shared in the past, we must make an important distinction between the divisive person and someone who is simply wrong. In other words, holding an unorthodox view doesn't make a person a heretic or divisive.
Are unorthodox ideals a problem? Absolutely! But it's sowing division (with those unorthodox views) that's the real problem according to the Bible (Titus 3:10-11; Romans 16:17).
But the person who holds an unorthodox view is to be governed by something far more significant, Christian charity. Passages like James 1:5-6;
[Jas 1:5-6 NASB] 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
[Eph 4:2-6 NASB] 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 [There is] one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (this is one reason we have God's word)
[2Ti 3:16-17 NASB] 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
And Eph. 4:11-16 (4 or 5-fold ministry).
[Eph 4:11-16 NASB] 11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him who is the head, [even] Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
I can't stress how important this distinction is (those who hold unorthodox views and those who divide people). And here's why: it's hard work to preserve unity. It's no work at all to label someone a heretic and walk away. Truth is there's far too much of this going on in some circles of the Church today. And sadly it's not always over orthodoxy, many times it's over ill-informed traditions.
Now it's also true that if someone is genuinely divisive or heretical, we tend to do nothing about them. Think about the sad state this put us in inside the Church. When we disagree, we divide and when there's an actual danger we tell ourselves we shouldn't judge. G.K. Chesterton points out this problem in his book aptly named Heretics.
"The word "heresy" not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word "orthodoxy" not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right. For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical."
So unity is good, division is bad, divisive people are a problem that must be dealt with, and there are absolutes in our belief; orthodoxy is not a bad word.
Along this train of thought, there's something else I'd like you to be aware of: that division doesn't always come at the hands of a divisive person. Sometimes (and I think we've all experienced this) division can result from mere ignorance; ignorance of what the Bible actually says. But there's hope in this one, this kind of division can be prevented. It simply requires growing in the truth. It's all about maturity.
Sadly I've found that people often double down in their ignorance. When questioned about whether an idea goes beyond possible to probable some people just refuse to change. "It could mean this; therefore, I'm justified." I suppose a lot of things can mean a lot of things, that doesn't make them probable.
When people dig in like this, they aren't necessarily divisive. Maybe stubborn but not divisive. But it leaves them either 1. having to defend an untenable position indefinitely (and being miserable btw) or 2. at some point, they have to admit they're wrong. And trust me when I say, the longer a person holds to a wrong idea, the harder it is to let it go. (time and tradition often become pearls of great price for some people).
Throughout the New Testament God's plan is unity and peace in Jesus...
[Rom 1:16 NASB] 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
[Gal 3:26-28 NASB] 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
[Col 3:11 NASB] 11 [a renewal] in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.
[Rom 16:1-16 NASB] "1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5 also [greet] the Church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles; the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the [household] of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the [household] of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
[Rom 16:17-18, 25-27 NASB] 17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech, they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. ... 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, [leading] to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.